Propaganda: Dr. Mabuse UK 12″ 
- Dr. Mabuse [13th Life Mix]
- Femme Fatale [The Woman With The Orchid]
- [The Ninth Life Of…] Dr. Mabuse
I was late to the game with Propaganda, ironically. I didn’t manage to hear them before a snippet of their video for “Duel” appeared on MTV’s monthly oasis of Brit-centric programming, London Calling, in 1985. I was immediately taken with the sound of that single and bought it as soon as possible. Propaganda had immediately become that bright, shiny thing that occupied my waking thoughts during that period. I was already paying attention to ZTT since the Frankie Goes To Hollywood/Trevor Horn phenomenon hit me, but hard. I should have been all over this single when it was released in 1984; only the second single issued on ZTT. But quite frankly, I don’t remember ever seeing it in the import bins at the time of its release.
I’ll never forget the experience of playing it for the first time when I got it home. It was absolutely the apex of the entire ZTT ethos in one matte black, potent pill. It sounded like Horn and the band spent months making the arrangement so that it was as exquisite as conceivably possible. I had a slight passing familiarity with the series of Fritz Lang silent films featuring the titular evil genius. The record itself was a stygian maelstrom of sonic malignancy, rendered into a 12″ single! Melodramatic strings sawed away while grinding industrial rhythms and tympani 24 feet tall pounded with sturm und drang until the hyper-cinematic sound seemed to envelope the listener’s entire consciousness. The audience was transported to a decadent world where every dark wish of the unholy criminal genius Mabuse would be made into reality.
It was the sort of record that a percussionist with the Düsseldorf Symphony [Michael Merttens] and a synthesizer player with industrial progenitors Die Krupps [Ralf Dörper] could possibly make when locked in the studio with Trevor Horn [and his Theam] and two intense female vocalists [Suzanne Freytag + Claudia Brücken] …plus a mysterious fifth member of the band for just this single [Andreas Thein]. That it was lost amid the furor surrounding “Relax” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood is something of a tragedy, because it is a vastly superior record in every way. It is so much record that the label issued it in two different sleeve designs, as detailed above.
“Dr. Mabuse” stands to my ears as the apex of every style I enjoyed in the Post-Punk era issued right at the only time it could have happened; when synthesizer technology had matured but before everyone were next trying to “rock out” on twangy guitars and “get real” by growing horrifying mullet hairstyles to wear with the techno-psychedelic neon fashion of the stultifying mid-eighties! Has there ever been a more thrilling track than the hellish “Dr. Mabuse?”* Claudia Brücken’s throaty Teutonic croon remains a most deliciously curdled cream. What I wouldn’t give to hear grandiose and ornate music such as this again! It’s the musical equivalent of a mid period Terry Gilliam film! I’d maintain that Trevor Horn never surpassed his production of “Dr. Mabuse.” Point if you will to “Two Tribes,” but even that [admitted] masterpiece stands in the ominous and considerable shadow of this release for these ears.
As devastating as the A-side was, it’s important to remember that there were B-sides on offer here as well. “Femme Fatale” was a magnificent Velvet Underground cover version that was released also on the “ZTT Sampled” LP in addition to variations of this single. The “9th Life” mix was a radical orchestral deconstruction mix with many backward tapes. Both of these tracks are available on the “Outside World” CD that came out… was it already a decade ago? If Propaganda had only issued this single, their exalted place in the Post-Punk Monk pantheon-slash-Record Cell would still be all but assured. That they managed to release three singles an an album in this configuration… and that there was enough money to pay for the production, is something that I’ll always be grateful for! This record heralded the last time that I’d hear work of this caliber again, and for that reason, it attains a bittersweet aura in the realm of my memories.
– 30 –
* “I Travel” by Simple Minds comes to mind as a contender… As does “Some Of Them” by Ultravox.